I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes. Two months after swearing that I would never run it again, I find myself on the train to Oxford to run 50 miles of my favourite worst nightmare, the Thames Path.
How has this happened? Well, I was signed up to the Atlantic Coast challenge this year, but had to defer when my partner in crime and caravans pulled out - I just couldn’t afford to do it on my own, and this left a large gap in my ‘endurance training’ in the run up to Namibia and Panama. So, I got on the internets, and started looking for another race. The only thing I could find that was affordable and nearish my house was the Thames Path Trot. On the Thames Path. Thames. Path.
Organised by Go Beyond Ultra, a company I have never run with before, this is a “50” (it’s actually 48) mile run from just outside Oxford, to Henley-on-Thames. My rose tinted spectacles told me this was the “nice” part of the Thames. Here’s how my brain works:
“The bit through Abingdon is lovely!”(Allie, you had a meltdown in the rain there)
“Iffey Lock is glorious!” (Allie, the path was so overgrown you needed a machete)
“The run out of Goring is AMAZING!” (Allie, you get PTSD from the A100 when you see the village hall)
“Henley is so nice - some brilliant pubs there” (Allie, how do you know? You have only ever run through it in the dark).
I reasoned it’s not so bad, it’s a course I know and I need to get the miles in, so I signed up (for a very reasonable £52), and got on with my life.
But I had missed something hadn’t I? I had blocked out the horror that lies between Goring and Henley. My brain was protecting me from that dark place, a place I swore I would never run through again. A place of angry outbursts and discarded cheese sandwiches. A place where friendships with pacers are cast aside and minute mile records are smashed, out of fear rather than personal choice. A flat, dismal grey abyss, where the rich are separated from the poor by a river and Race Directors run out to accompany you for the sake of their own insurance. I had blocked out the horror that is READING.
No. Just no.
The race is on a Saturday which is a wonderful thing because it means you can get drunk after - and this year was their 11th edition. The 8.30am start meant a 4am wake up call for me to get to Oxford, which was nice, and it was a stunner of a morning. My Head of Crew ™ Lorna picked me and a lovely stranger called Sylvia up from the station at 7.30am. Sylvia was running too - I didn’t just ‘pick her up’ on the train. Not that kind of party.
Race HQ was at a REALLY nice hotel, and when we arrived it was full of runners - the nice kind, not the awful kind - and couples trying to have a romantic break that was being ruined by discarded banana skins and people in lycra. I haven’t felt so welcome and positive at the start of a race for ages. Everyone was chatting and there were all sorts of weirdos. Serious guys who were nice with it, the first timers, the chancers, the plodders; it was a brilliant reflection of the ultra community in one posh room.
I went to drop my bag and bumped into Simon, the RD, who asked me if I was “that girl with the blog who wanted to drop pasta at the aid station”. I confirmed I was that very person. There can be only one. We had a quick chat about stuff that I was doing, and turns out Simon has the exact hammock I need for my Panama travels. And he offered to lend it to me. HOW NICE IS THAT??? This is why I love us Ultra lot. Simon doesn’t know me at all, yet he offers me this mega expensive piece of kit to borrow, just like that. He’s a legend. I like him a lot. Today is a good day. But still. READING.
Doing some running
The race starts at 8.30 - I am running the first 10 miles with Lorna (a little Saturday stroll for her) and we run along faster than we should, having a catch up chat and paying ZERO attention to pace. It was one of those really cold crispy mornings and I start to feel guilty for hating on the Thames Path, because it’s actually quite magical. Totally different from the shitshow it was back in August. Sunbeams and glory, and I am running too fast. Lorna leaves me at the first aid station, where I make my first mistake and decide to eat a GU gel. I bloody love GU gels, but I have self inflicted rules about sugar - nothing during the first half of a race. Why I ate it I don’t know, but I did. It was yummy. I was like a child at a birthday party for all of 10 mins. I didn’t really have anything else in my stomach - breakfast was long gone, and because I had been chatting, I hadn’t paid attention to actually eating real food. This will come back to bite me on the arse. Almost literally.
Snacky McSnackFace making some bad decisions
I trot on alone, listening to 6Music, still running too fast, having a chat with random strangers. The usual. I get to 20 miles and realise that I am well ahead of time in what I thought would be my “training run”. I start to get a bit worried. I managed to cover 25 miles in about 4.15, which for a race of this length, for someone like me, is punchy. BUT YUMMY GU GELS! It’s very flat, and I needed to slow down. And then I realised I was properly hungry.
This was pre-Reading…..
I had been snacking on nuts and stuff a tiny bit, but had totally failed to get any crisps or real food down me. I kept doing that thing where I was like “a couple more miles then lunch” which is stupid. If you’re hungry, eat. By the time I got to 30 miles, I was starving. I stopped and got out my lunch - cheese and onion rolls and crisps - and tried to get it down me, but I didn’t want it. The sugar monster was in me and wanted sweets. I’d left it too late and I felt sick. After a mile of walking and stuffing my face I realised that the sugar rollercoaster wasn’t my only issue. I was in Reading.
It’s just so shit, isn’t it? I can’t work out what’s better, running through it scared for your life in the dark, or seeing it in the daylight. It just depresses me that we, as an intelligent race, can come up with a place like Reading. By this point, I felt really sick and had utilised natures toilet, aka the bushes, a number of times (RIP Buff) and I knew it was because of the too much sugar thing.
Natures toilets. Spot the bush.
I was managing 4-5 miles an hour and not enjoying myself AT ALL when I saw the ray of light that is Julius running towards me. Hurrah! I am not alone!
Poor old Julius. Why he comes out to pace me I do not know. To be fair, I had emptied myself of the sugar monster and just felt tired, so we trotted and chatted and generally had a nice time for the next 10 miles. I love the fact he doesn’t push me to go faster when he knows there is literally NO POINT. He had a massive bag of snacks (not a euphemism). What a winner that man is.
Me emerging from Reading…..
Once you come out of Reading (think about coming out of the Upside Down in Stranger Things - it’s the same) and start to hit Henley, it becomes quite nice, but a bit technical on the old nav, and there is the chance you could get lost. I’ve done this route a lot in the dark, but I was lucky Julius had run from the end to meet me, so he knew where we were going. Sometimes you feel like you are running down the end of a posh persons garden, when it’s actually the Thames Path. About five miles from the end, it started raining which was not in the plan, but I have learnt now to always pack my jacket and I kept thinking “the pubs will be open!” so we made OK time and I got in at about 9 hours 5 mins. Perfectly acceptable - better than I thought I would do. Thank fuck that’s done etc.
At then end we are greeted by Simon and his team. There was a stand with hot drinks, cake and snacks (no beer BOO!) that was brilliant PLUS changing rooms and toilets - a stroke of genius at the end of a 50 miler. I drank a coffee and went to the pub. As is my way.
So overall I had a lovely time. I fucking hate the Thames Path. But this run was actually OK. The race company are brilliant. Aid stations well stocked, brilliant medal, lovely runners and a wonderful RD. I am now looking at their races for next year because they are DEFO my people. A serious note - this is the perfect first 50 miler. Flat, good cut offs and amazing support from volunteers and race company. I might even do it next year for a laugh.
Also look how knackered I am in this picture.
Next up - New York Marathon!